The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.
From the Daily Press Briefing of November 2, 2009
1:26 p.m. ESTMR. KELLY:
Okay. Good afternoon. Let me just get you up to date on the Secretary’s schedule today. She had a working lunch with Moroccan Foreign Minister Fassi-Fihri, an audience with King Mohammed VI. Right now, she has a meeting with the foreign ministers from the GCC – it’s actually called the GCC+3. That will be followed by a press conference. And then she has the opening dinner of the Forum for the Future, which, as you know, is a joint civil society initiative of the countries of the broader Middle East and North Africa region and the G-8.
I have a short statement to read as well about the election in Afghanistan. The Independent Electoral Commission announced a formal end to Afghanistan’s presidential elections process in accordance with the Afghan constitution and electoral laws. Following Dr. Abdullah’s announcement to withdraw, the IEC decided that a second round is no longer required and has announced that Hamid Karzai will be the next president.
The Embassy in Kabul congratulated him on his victory a little earlier, and we echo those words of congratulation. We congratulate all the candidates who stood in Afghanistan’s second presidential election, in particular, Dr. Abdullah. The candidates drew attention to many of the issues that Afghans want addressed by the next president and government.
The first ever Afghan-led Afghan election was held in challenging circumstances. Fraud in the first round was detected and eliminated, leaving the two candidates with the most votes, President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah, in a runoff. In line with the Afghan constitution and electoral laws, the IEC declared President Karzai the winner after Dr. Abdullah withdrew, leaving the race uncontested.
This result was in line with Afghanistan laws and constitution. As we move beyond the election, the credibility and success of the new president and his Afghan Government will rest on their ability to deliver better security, governance, justice, and progress to the Afghan people. We stand ready to support the new government in this regard.
So with that, I’ll take your questions. QUESTION:
So what does this all mean for your policy in Afghanistan? MR. KELLY:
Well, it – I don’t think – it doesn’t change our policy necessarily. I think we saw that an election was conducted under really extraordinarily difficult conditions. There were Afghan institutions that were set up to ensure that the process was run in accordance with Afghan laws. And we’re seeing this process play out, and it appears that we’ve seen the final step in that process today.QUESTION:
Well, do you think that this result leaves you with a credible partner?MR. KELLY:
Well, I think the important thing is, is that this whole process and the formation as – of the government as it goes forward is done in accordance with Afghan laws and institutions. These institutions represent the people of Afghanistan. Legitimacy – I think that’s what you’re suggesting here – legitimacy is derived from the government respecting the will of the Afghan people and obeying Afghanistan’s laws and institutions. And what we’re seeing so far is all of these laws and institutions being respected.QUESTION:
Well, but I – no, it’s actually not legitimacy that I was asking about. I was asking if it was – if you have a now – if this result leaves you with a – gives you a credible partner to work with in Afghanistan. Whether it’s legitimate or not, whether the rules were followed or not, do you think this result gives you a credible partner?MR. KELLY:
I think what we’ve seen is a process that was very difficult, that was conducted according to laws that were laid down by the government and legislature of Afghanistan. And these were the first-ever totally Afghan-run elections.QUESTION:
I understand all that, but do you – does this result leave you with a credible partner? Or are you not prepared to say -- MR. KELLY:
We are there – we are in Afghanistan to support Afghanistan in its efforts to establish, for the first time in decades, security and institutions that will support the Afghan people. And this is what we’re going to do going forward. As I said, the important thing is that this has been done completely in accordance with the laws and institutions, and the institutions have worked.QUESTION:
No, I just want to – well, I just want to make sure that I understand. You are not prepared to say that you have – that this result gives you a credible partner in Afghanistan? MR. KELLY:
I’m – what I’ll say is I’m – we’re prepared to work with this partner who was elected according to Afghan laws in an election that was conducted by Afghan institutions. And we have a big stake in Afghanistan. The international community has a big stake in Afghanistan. And we stand ready to support them as they go forward.
When you’ve talked about credibility in the past, it’s been related to the allegations of corruption against many members of their government. Now this election – this decision doesn’t change that at all, so are you still pushing for an end to the corruption as a way to build its credibility?MR. KELLY:
Absolutely, absolutely. QUESTION:
So they haven’t – so they’re not credible as it stands right now?MR. KELLY:
No, I’m not saying that at all. I mean, let’s look at the facts. The facts were that the Electoral Complaints Commission identified significant fraud and took steps or made recommendations for the Independent Electoral Commission to take steps to address that fraud. The IEC made a recommendation that because the – a number of these ballots were thrown out, this brought the total of votes for Dr. Karzai
under 50 percent, and therefore, called for a runoff. Dr. Karzai accepted this – accepted the recommendations of the IEC, of the ECC, and then the ICC. So he accepted the findings of fraud and agreed to a second round. And I think that’s the important thing here. QUESTION:
What about the broader issue of corruption? You started to say something about that. MR. KELLY:
Well, I think that what we’re trying to help Afghanistan establish is a government that enjoys the support of the people and is able to provide security and able to provide services throughout the country. In order for it to enjoy support, it has to be accountable for accusations of fraud. We saw Dr. Karzai do that. We saw him accept the findings of the ECC. And we stand ready to help him, after he forms his government, to help address some of these problems, like corruption. QUESTION:
Is it not at all a concern that this is a president who got less than 50 percent, less than half of the popular vote, after the fraud was taken into account? MR. KELLY:
No, I don’t think it does. I mean, I think we’ve had a few presidents who’ve won with a plurality and not an outright majority.
Yeah. Also on Afghanistan. QUESTION:
Do you believe that Afghanistan – or that President Karzai needs to take certain specific steps in order to bolster his credibility and legitimacy there? I mean, I don’t think the constitution specifically addresses the issue of what happens if one candidate pulls out in the second round. MR. KELLY:
Yeah. I think, the main thing here is that we – our main interest here is to see the findings of these Afghan-led institutions that are established by Afghan law – that they’re carried through. As I said before, we have a real stake in success of this government. And after it’s formed, we’ll stand ready to support them as they try and do what I was just suggesting a few minutes ago – try to be accountable to the people, to provide security, to provide services. And we have a lot of programs in place, as the international community has a lot of programs in place, to help them with that.
Do you have any update on North Korea-U.S. meeting in New York? QUESTION:
Can I ask a question on Afghanistan? MR. KELLY:
One more on Afghanistan? QUESTION:
Yeah. MR. KELLY:
Okay, go ahead. QUESTION:
But just on the issue of credibility, just one more question: How does the U.S., who has in the past made no secret of its adversarial relationship with the Karzai government, now work again with Mr. Karzai? And would you say that the U.S. efforts to bring democracy to Afghanistan have been battered in this election process? MR. KELLY:
Well, I’d like to kind of step back and look what they’ve accomplished here too. I mean, this was an extraordinarily difficult election. And they’re dealing in a country that has incredible challenges represented by the security situation, by the difficulty of the road system, of the geography. It is a very -- QUESTION:
But it’s – MR. KELLY:
It is a challenging situation, and –QUESTION:
Well, what about the challenges for the U.S., though, the goals that the U.S. set out? Were those achieved? Or is – MR. KELLY:
The goals that we set out was to have an election that was conducted in an open way, and that was conducted in accordance with Afghan law and implemented by Afghan institutions with the support of the international community. And we’ve been able to achieve that. (The briefing was concluded at 1:48 p.m.)
Spokesman meant to say President Karzai